Sickle Cell Disease

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When you have sickle cell disease, you deal with pain. Pain is the number one reason you might need emergency care or a hospital stay.

The symptoms, side effects, and pain of sickle cell can get worse as you get older. They also get harder to manage. At UVA, you’ll have a dedicated team with a personalized plan to keep you healthy and active.

Specialized Sickle Cell Support

An episode of pain, called a pain crisis, can hit suddenly. During pain crises, your blood cells get stuck and block small veins or arteries, causing pain in your:

  • Chest
  • Abdomen
  • Arms
  • Legs
  • Joints
  • Bones

Avoid the ER

Managing pain crises can be hard on your own. But, you don’t have to visit the ER for your pain crises. Get seen quickly by pain experts at our Infusion Center. Call ahead Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-12 p.m., for meds and specialized sickle cell care.

Our sickle cell team also gives you:

  • The newest medications for reducing symptoms
  • Access to clinical trials that test new options for managing your sickle cell disease
  • A dedicated palliative care provider who helps with your chronic and sudden pain
  • A social worker who helps with insurance claims, medication costs, and other issues

Treating Sickle Cell Disease at UVA

Treating sickle cell mostly involves managing your symptoms. We can treat your symptoms with:

  • Medications
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Blood transfusions
  • Immunizations
  • Lifestyle changes

A stem cell transplant can cure sickle cell disease, but it isn’t the right option for every patient. Your care team can explore with you if you’re a good candidate for this treatment.

     

    Shelly Scott is one of the 100,000 Americans living with sickle cell disease.

    Having Control and Getting Relief

    Finding relief from sickle cell pain isn’t just about the medicine. “Having a team of people willing to listen to you makes all the difference,” says Shelly Scott.

    Read Shelly’s story

    What is Sickle Cell Disease?

    Sickle cell disease is a group of genetic blood disorders. You may be more likely to have sickle cell disease if your family came from sub-Saharan Africa, South America, Central America, the Caribbean, Saudi Arabia, India, or some Mediterranean countries such as Turkey, Greece, and Italy.

    The type of sickle cell disease you have depends on the genes you got from your parents. You're born with sickle cell, but symptoms don’t start until you’re a few months old. 

    Your genes cause your red blood cells to be shaped differently than normal. They also may be harder or stickier than normal.

    Types of Sickle Cell Disease

    The most common types are:

    • Hemoglobin SS (HbSS, also called sickle cell anemia)
    • Hemoglobin SC (HbSC)
    • HbS beta thalassemia (two types: HbSβ 0-thalassemia and HbSβ +-thalassemia)

    These types are rare:

    • HbSD
    • HbSE
    • HbSO
    Living with Sickle Cell

    Watch Your Symptoms

    Sickle cell affects many areas of your body. Symptoms can be mild to severe. It's important to watch yourself for:

    • Pain
    • Swelling in your arms or legs
    • Nausea
    • Fevers
    • Infections
    • Anemia (low blood cell counts)
    • Blockages in blood vessels
    • Damage in your organs

    Prevent Symptoms

    These simple steps can prevent or reduce your symptoms:

    • Keep in regular touch with your care team
    • Prevent infections
    • Drink plenty of water
    • Exercise (but don’t overdo it)
    • Avoid getting too hot or cold
    • Join a patient support group

      Do You Need Urgent Care?

      It's important to have a plan for urgent care when symptoms get intense. Get to an emergency room if you're feeling:

      • Chest pain
      • Trouble breathing
      • High fever
      • Severe headache
      • Swelling in your belly
      • Sudden weakness, trouble moving, or have a seizure
      • Loss of feeling
      • Painful erection